Charleston attorney's death puts contempt charges to rest

By Lawrence Smith | Jan 9, 2009

CHARLESTON – As a result of his sudden death, the state Supreme Court has dismissed a petition for contempt the state Bar was seeking for a Charleston attorney's failure to comply with the terms of his 2007 disciplinary action.

On Jan. 27, the Court was slated to hear oral arguments in the case of State ex rel Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Michael R. Cline. It was one of three attorney discipline-related cases on the court's argument docket for that day.

According to court records, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar, was seeking issuance of rule to show cause why Cline should not be held in contempt for failing to abide by terms of Court's March 19, 2007, ruling.

In its ruling, the Court not only reprimanded Cline for failing to properly disburse funds to a client in a debt-collection matter, but also ordered that his practice be supervised for two years.

During that two-year supervision, records show Cline was to hire a certified public accountant to audit all his trust accounts, and provide ODC an annual report of that audit. Also, Cline was to provide ODC during the two-year supervision quarterly statements for the receipt and disbursement of all funds during that quarter.

According to its petition filed with the Court on Aug. 21, ODC said it received on Oct. 1, 2007, the initial supervision report from James W. St Clair had retained Joyce Pack as the CPA to perform the audits and he'd established a client trust account at United Bank.

Two days later, ODC asked for verification on not only Pack's employment along with an understanding of the services she was to perform, but also Cline had registered his trust account with the Bar.

When he failed to respond to the Oct. 3 letter, ODC sent Cline a letter date Nov. 3, 2007, again requesting verification. It, too, went unanswered.

On May 20, 2008, ODC sent a letter again asking for verification as well was the status of the January 2008 supervision report that St Clair had yet to submit. On June 4, St. Clair provided a supervision report showing acknowledgment by then-Bar Executive Director Tom Tinder that Cline had registered his trust account with the Bar.

However, the supervision reported contained no verification of Pack's employment. Instead, St. Clair only restated what he said in his Oct. 1 report.

Citing his failure to comply with the Court's order, including providing an audit of all his accounts, ODC requested Cline's "license to practice law be immediately suspended until such time that Respondent (Cline) is full compliance with this Honorable Court's Order."

On Jan. 5, ODC's petition was dismissed. The dismissal came following Cline's death on Dec. 26.

According to his death certificate, Cline, 59, died as a result of heart complications, specifically cardiac tamponade and mydocardial infarction. Along with his wife, Carole, his mother Hazel Boice Cline and brothers Russell and Mark survived Cline.

According to his obituary in the Charleston Gazette, Cline was the managing principal in the Michael R. Cline Law Offices. Litigation and commercial law were Cline's areas of practice.

After graduating from then-Morris Harvey College in 1972, Cline received his juris doctorate degree from Wake Forest University School of Law in 1975.

Cline was later admitted to the West Virginia Bar later that year on Sept. 30.

His professional associations included membership in the Kanawha County, West Virginia and American Bar Associations as well as the West Virginia Association for Justice and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Case No. 34341

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